Match Report: 2019 Playoff Final
Toronto Wolfpack have brought another Championship to Canada with a 24-6 victory over Featherstone Rovers in the 2019 Betfred Championship Playoff Final. The thrilling triumph means that the world’s first professional transatlantic sporting team will play in the top-flight Super League in 2020, realizing the dream laid out by the Club ahead of their inaugural 2017 Season.
A record crowd of 9,974 were bathed in Canadian sunshine for the clash and they made their presence felt from the opening whistle. With so much on the line, sources of motivation flowed freely for the Wolfpack in the most important game of their young history. In addition to the rewards of Super League and the support of a parochial crowd, a chance to put the scars of a heartbreaking loss in the same game last year to bed undoubtedly weighed on the minds of the Toronto squad.
Featherstone entered the battle with irresistible momentum on the back of a remarkable Playoffs campaign that had seen them reach the Final from the fifth and final position in the postseason bracket. The Wolfpack needed just one Playoffs victory to qualify for the Final while the Rovers claimed three brilliant triumphs, all on the road, to book their place on the biggest stage.
The Wolfpack got the Playoff Final underway to the roar of both home and traveling fans, immediately piling pressure on the Rovers ball-carriers. Both sides explored the others defensive lines for gaps unsuccessfully in the opening minutes, but it was the Rovers determination with and without the ball that shone brightest. No matter how close the Wolfpack got to the try-line, the blue jumpers of Featherstone continued to multiply, denying the home side an opening to squeeze through.
Defensive effort was paramount throughout the opening stages as both teams desperately guarded their territory. The deadlock wouldn’t be broken until the 28th minute, when Rovers scrum-half Dane Chisholm put through an inch-perfect kick that Wolfpack winger Liam Kay was unable to deal with successfully. Alex Sutcliffe was first on the scene for Featherstone, pouncing on the loose ball and calling the scorers pen into action for the first time.
The ink would not be dry before the second entry was required, as the Wolfpack pushed forward strongly on their next possession, culminating in Josh McCrone forcing his way over the try-line amongst four Featherstone defenders. Somehow finding a way to ground the ball, the inspirational captain had finally opened the scoring for the home side. Gareth O’Brien was unable to add the extra points and the referee’s whistle brought an end to the opening half with Featherstone holding a slender two-point lead.
With just 40 minutes remaining in the 2019 Season, everything was on the line as Toronto and Featherstone returned to the field for the second half. Beginning in much the same fashion as the first, neither side was able to assert dominance from the outset. It wasn’t until the 57th minute, and a stunning individual effort from Wolfpack talisman Blake Wallace, that the game would be turned on its head.
Charging at the line and weaving expertly through the Rovers outstretched arms, Wallace carved a path to the try-line and simply refused to be stopped. Five minutes later, Bodene Thompson showed his strength in the aftermath of a supreme effort from Joe Mellor to cross the line himself and within the blink of an eye, the Wolfpack were the owners of a treasured 10-point lead.
Forced into defense for a nail-biting five-minute period, the Wolfpack held firm to deny the Rovers a chance to get back into the contest. Instead, veteran Jon Wilkin showed his class as he got involved in a charge up the field that would end in a try for Joe Mellor. Just reward for a sensational performance from the scrum-half, Mellor’s eighth try for the season sealed the Playoff Final result with ten minutes left to play, sending the record crowd into rapturous applause.
Featherstone were valiant in defeat, ending a brilliant season with a fantastic performance, but the referee would end the game with the scoreline reading 24-6 in favor of the home side, sending the Wolfpack into the Super League. The Playoff Final also signaled an end to the 17-year career of Ashton Sims, a fan and locker-room favorite at the Wolfpack. The celebrations on the siren not only showed how much a Super League birth means for the transatlantic team but also what Sims means to the expansion Club as a result of the effort he has given to the team since his first day on the list.
The Wolfpack now head into an off-season designed to prepare them for the step up to top division, the Northern Hemisphere’s premier Rugby League competition. 2020 will see some of the best teams in the world visiting Toronto, pitting the Wolfpack against famous names in the sport such as Leeds Rhinos and St Helens R.F.C. The 2020 Super League Season will begin in February, with the Wolfpack commencing a stretch of home games from late April or early May.
28’ Try Rovers: Sutcliffe. Conversion: Chisholm 0-6
32’ Try Wolfpack: McCrone 4-6
Half Time: 4 – 6
57’ Try Wolfpack: Wallace. Conversion: O’Brien 10-6
62’ Try Wolfpack: Thompson. Conversion: O’Brien 16-6
70’ Try Wolfpack: Mellor. Conversion: Wallace 22-6
80’ Penalty Wolfpack: Wallace 24-6
Full Time: 24-6